Radioactive uranium has reportedly leaked into groundwater at the Westinghouse Electric nuclear fuel plant in Richmond County, South Carolina. Local citizens are concerned their drinking water and health may be affected by the leak, despite state officials’ insistence that there is no threat to public health.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) tried to calm fears that public drinking water might be contaminated by the leak by telling people there is no reason to believe the leak went beyond the plant site, as EcoWatch reported.
But state Senator Darrell Jackson is not buying any of these DHEC assurances and wants the county to schedule a public meeting with officials and citizens to discuss the leak and other related issues.
According to Jackson, people who grew up and live most of their lives close to the plant have reasons to fear for water contamination.
“This is very disturbing,” Jackson said. “This is one of the fears that those of us who grew up in that area, and lived in that area, have always talked about. I’m asking DHEC to get to Westinghouse officials and let’s have a public meeting, not just with elected officials, but we need citizens there also.”
Management of the nuclear plant notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when they discovered the leak on July 12. According to company officials, the uranium leaked through a floor hole measuring three inches and buried six feet into the ground. It happened at a section of the plant where acid is constantly used.
Officials revealed they sealed off the hole with a metal plate and no activity will occur in the area until required repairs are carried out. NRC officials stated the amount of uranium discovered at the site is 4,000 parts per million, more than 1,000 times higher what is expected for normal soil.
DHEC said further analysis of groundwater will be carried out at the plant to verify any contamination. They added however that the nuclear plant is not close to any public drinking water and that there is no cause for members of the public to panic.
“Based on existing information, there is no threat to the public from this recent release or from historical groundwater contamination at this secured site as there is no exposure risk to the general public,” said DHEC spokesperson Tommy Crosby.
Yet Senator Jackson insists a public meeting must hold over the matter.
“What we don’t know is what kind of impact that’s going to have 20 years from now on the groundwater, this drip, drip, drip,” Jackson said. “I don’t know of too many people too receptive to living in the area when they know the groundwater is contaminated.”
According to EcoWatch, Nitrate contaminant has been found in the groundwater at the plant since first being discovered in 1984. In 2016, a section of the plant was closed down when uranium pollution was detected in an air pollution device. Earlier this year, the plant was warned of the need to improve safety measures and procedures for a potential radiation burst.